Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 85–97 | Cite as

Dual Pathways from Reactive Aggression to Depressive Symptoms in Children: Further Examination of the Failure Model

  • Spencer C. EvansEmail author
  • Paula J. Fite


The failure model posits that peer rejection and poor academic performance are dual pathways in the association between early aggressive behavior and subsequent depressive symptoms. We examined this model using an accelerated longitudinal design while also incorporating proactive and reactive aggression and gender moderation. Children in 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades (n = 912; ages 6–12; 48% female) were rated three times annually by their primary teachers on measures of proactive and reactive aggression, peer rejection, academic performance, and depressive symptoms. Using Bayesian cross-classified estimation to account for nested and planned-missing data, path models were estimated to examine whether early reactive aggression predicted subsequent peer rejection and academic performance, and whether these, in turn, predicted subsequent depressive symptoms. From 1st to 3rd grade, reactive aggression predicted peer rejection (not academic performance), proactive aggression predicted academic performance (not peer rejection), and academic performance and peer rejection both predicted depressive symptoms. From 3rd to 5th grade, however, neither peer rejection nor academic performance predicted subsequent depressive symptoms. Results were not moderated by gender. Overall, these findings provide mixed and limited support for the failure model among school-age children. Early reactive aggression may be a key risk factor for social problems, whereas proactive aggression may be linked to improved academic functioning. The “dual pathways” of peer rejection and academic performance may operate during early but not later elementary school. Limitations and implications are discussed.


Failure model Proactive and reactive aggression Peer rejection Academic performance Depressive symptoms Developmental pathways 



For their helpful feedback and consultation on this study, we thank Michael Roberts, Christopher Cushing, Anne Williford, Eric Vernberg, and Jennifer Blossom. We are also grateful to the school administrators and teachers for their research partnership and participation. This work was completed as part of the first author’s doctoral dissertation, with support from the American Psychological Foundation (Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Fellowship, SCE) and the University of Kansas (Lillian Jacobey Baur Early Childhood Fellowship and Doctoral Student Research Fund, SCE; Faculty Research Fund, PJF).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was obtained from the institutional review board at the University of Kansas (Human Subjects Committee - Lawrence #20175)

Informed Consent

Informed consent was collected.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical Child Psychology ProgramUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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